Mystery worshipper 2

Do you have nightmares about not knowing what to do? Is the thought of not knowing when to stand or sit paralyzing? Are you uncomfortable when you don’t know what to say?

Usually, I’d say yes to all of those, but when it comes to spiritual tourism, I’m reasonable blasé about the whole thing. It’s not my tradition. I’m there to experience the service and to worship alongside as well as I can. That’s enough for me.

But I was struck at the difference it makes without a bulletin/program. The prolific paper output required for their multi-page handout at the Anglican churches I frequent is always slightly disturbing from an environmental point of view, but I greatly appreciate being able to follow along with the above variables.

However, at the cathedral tonight, there was no program. So I just stood quietly when the mass mumbling arose (except for the Lord’s Prayer where I’m always thrown that Catholics stop before “for thine is the kingdom....”).

The song numbers were listed on a board (a subtle feature I missed at first), but did not seem to correlate with what was being sung until the last few songs. 

It consistently surprises me how poor high churches seem to be at communicating about themselves. Evangelical churches, it could be argued, and probably fairly, are unhealthily obsessed with new people (whether or not their actions make it likely to attract any). In spite all of that, they still have some massive gaps in judgement when it comes to welcoming newcomers, but at least ushers who hand you a bulletin at the door and direct you to a seat are a given.

Often, when I seek for information about services at Catholic or United churches, I’m lucky if I can find a web presence at all, updated more recently than three or four years ago, much less information about this weekend’s service. I’m baffled at the inattention to making it possible for worshippers to find them. Are they so sure people will know where they are, when their services are, and just show up, without any information to help them out with the right time and place? (I recall an interview reported in the Free Press where a United Church minister had an “ah-ha!” moment after chatting with some evangelical types: “Oh, you greet people at the door and try to make them feel welcome?”) The cathedral has updated their website, making it much easier to see when their services are.

What does give me nightmares when it comes to church services did transpire, however. Someone passed out.

At first, I thought it was simply an excessively long pause in the action while... I don’t know. A reader collected him or herself to move to the front? This isn’t my tradition, so I don’t know what all goes on.

When someone got up and purposefully marched over to another section of pews to what I now realized was a bit of a commotion, it became clear that someone was in some state of physical unwellness.

This is the moment I fear every time I am leading a service.

When I was a child, I saw a man turn white and green and grey and fall over from a heart attack in the middle of a service. Across the church, when she realized what was going on, an RN sprang up with a shout to call an ambulance as she rushed to his side, but the pastor merely paused long enough to say “someone please help the man out” and continued with his sermon. That felt very uncomfortable to me.

Many years later, when a senior lady slowly collapsed while I was leading singing, I didn’t know what to do, not wanting to repeat the seemingly insensitive actions of my previous pastor nor wanting to cause undue commotion by halting abruptly. I believe I finished the verse/chorus that I was on then stopped. We paused all proceedings until the paramedics had left.

A few years later, another senior lady collapsed at church. Both times I was so grateful for a number of medically trained people at church who immediately but calmly came to the assistance. In the meantime, the pastor calmly suspended what was going on and just stood at the front, looking unflapped and in control.

So, what would this priest do? He chose to continue the service.

This did seem like a reasonable thing to do in the moment given the size of the congregation. People likely would have gotten restive and started chatting. The collapsee may have felt uncomfortable to have so much attention. Some congregation members may have various reasons to be triggered by the event and would find the familiar rhythms of the service distracting at least, or, at best calming.

The choice to continue the service did become a problem when the first responders arrived just as the boys in robes carrying pikes and candles were trying to lead the congregation up the aisles for communion. Poor firefighters had to fight their way past the sea of people whom a suddenly appearing usher-like character was trying to redirect on another path. In any case, the movement of people for communion was problematic for the first responders, however, the service was calm and progressed to its end without undue delay. (An advantage in an evangelical church is that the sermon is the bulk of the second half of the service, and its length is under the pastor’s control. This priest rushed through his incantations rather quickly in the first moments of picking up the rhythm after the halt.)

So, maybe there’s not one right way to do it, but several different approaches all with pros and cons.

It was another interesting experience in worshipping in an unfamiliar church, one I highly recommend to everyone (not being present while someone collapses -- that I don't recommend at all! -- but visiting a church of another tradition).


I actually don't like that we continue the Lord's Prayer beyond what the Gospels hold. That 'for thine is the kingdom' section is only found in the Didache and was supposed to be an addition only on services where the Eucharist is taken.
kar0ling said…
Oh, interesting. I love that part, especially in Dutch. “Want van uw is de koningkrijk, de kracht, and de heerlijkheid, tot in euwigheit. Amen.” So fun to say.

I thought of that last night when we recited the Lord’s Prayer at the W of P f C U and said the whole thing despite the presence of Winnipeg's two archbishops, and the key event organizer being a Catholic priest. Is this awkward for them, I wondered?

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